This round-up features news on continuing plans to externalise EU migration policy to Morocco and other North African states by striking "comprehensive" migration deals (Portuguese presidency). Conversely, a report by TNI suggests that reining in expansive implementation of harmful border security models urgently requires divestment from the "border industrial complex" to uphold rights and protect people. UK plans to strike deals making EU states responsible for asylum seekers to be returned are facing opposition, and UNHCR has criticised UK plans to diminish protection for refugees. The European Commission, meanwhile, plans to increase the use of detention at borders to increase so-called "voluntary returns" (by leaving people no other option) and improve provisions for reintegration.
Border deaths continue apace, including a shipwreck in which 130 people died after the Libyan coast guard, Italy and Malta failed to intervene, as the EU's withdrawal from SAR operations is compounded by "border surveillance, drones and the militarisation of the Mediterranean", as documented by journalist Antonio Mazzeo. Human rights concerns include the Greek Ombudsman's complaint that investigations into pushbacks to Turkey were obstructed; the Council of Europe state that five years after the ECtHR's Khlaifia vs. Italy sentence, rights are still not guaranteed in Italian hotspots; a model camp "Kara Tepe" on Lesbos was closed and its dwellers were transferred to the infamous Moria camp; and French human rights groups (led by Anafe) criticise the State Council's failure to order the closure of border police (PAF) detention facilities at the French-Italian border, where unlawful practices have been certified.
At an institutional level, the European Contact Group on Search and Rescue, aiming to coordinate the EU's activities on the "rescue void" engineered to reduce irregular border crossings in the Mediterranean, is not meeting transparency requirements. Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri, meanwhile, has issued a decision to set up a lobbying transparency register, as the agency is required to do by its 2019 Regulation.
We are delighted to unveil our updated and improved Observatory on Frontex, focusing on its transparency and accountability, alongside a policy brief by Ilaria Aversa and Mariana Gkliati on ongoing investigations and inquiries into the agency's activities. This round-up includes news on Frontex's denial that it recruits informants (despite acquiring training to do so) and internal letters that shed light on the agency's failure to recruit fundamental rights officers and moves to restrain their independence. Further, plans are afoot to use AI as a "forecasting and early warning tool for migration" and set up a biometric population database in Senegal to facilitate the deportation of its citizens from the European Union.
Elsewhere, APDHA reports that a record number of people (1,700) died while trying to reach Spanish territory in 2020, a protest against EU migration and asylum policies was held outside the CDU's headquarters in Berlin, and UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was asked to explain inconsistencies between her testimony before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee and the findings of an independent inspection on disused military barracks used to house asylum-seekers.
A call for renewed action to protect the rights of migrants, refugees and people on the move across the globe came from the European Social Forum on Migration, in a Declaration by "300 social movements, civil society organisations, migrants' associations, unions, migrant and refugee people activists and academics". Evidence of such problems includes a Jesuit Refugee Service report on the pandemic's effects on asylum seeker reception facilities, the 10-year anniversary (without justice) of the "Left-to-Die" boat in which 63 people perished despite authorities knowing about it, while the expulsion of human rights defender Helena Maleno (of Caminando Fronteras) from Morocco reminds us that externalised EU migration policy leads to concerted EU and third-state attacks against solidarity, civil society and the right to information.
Regarding the European Pact on Asylum and Immigration whose adoption procedure is under discussion, the Council Legal Service identified problems in proposed measures, including the Commission resorting to "hybrid acts" by drawing on various legal sources in ways that undermine the EU legal order's coherence.
The criminalisation of solidarity in Europe continues, as highlighted in a report by Choose Love on the pressure that Greece is placing on civil society actors helping refugees and the umpteenth set of charges levelled at 21 members of search and rescue crews in Italy. Even where organisations are able to rescue people at sea, those whom are brought ashore face a "lottery from the sea to hotspots and back to unsafety", says another report, which proposes alternatives to the ad-hoc relocation mechanism that leads to human rights violations for people disembarked in maritime border states.
Regarding the Frontex pushbacks scandal, its correspondence with national and EU authorities provides telling details of how these bodies interact, including evidence that a Danish helicopter crew was convinced to change its account of what it witnessed in the Aegean. Apart from this, Frontex is pushing ahead with plans to develop its intelligence capabilities to interrogate and question suspects, recruit informants and generally obtain "intelligence" to justify interventions.
This growth in the agency's intelligence-gathering capabilities fits within a pattern. The EU is developing a new architecture for borders, migration and security databases, described as a "paradigm shift" - and rules on a new "permission to travel" scheme that are part of these plans have been provisionally agreed. The EU and member states are also boosting the "external dimension" (with all it entails in terms of human rights abuses and systemic discrimination) under the Pact on Asylum and Migration, with attention initially going to North Africa. On this latter point, a new ActionAid report documents the use of Italian and EU funding in Libya, amid plans to turn the North African country into a "wall" for Europe.
Finally, the European Parliament Think Tank has published three briefings: on the recasting of the Returns Directive, a proposed common asylum procedure and on pushbacks at external borders - an ongoing illegal practice that should be much higher on the public agenda.
This Frontex-heavy issue of our immigration and asylum round-up includes items looking at criticism of, responses to and inquiries into the agency's alleged involvement in pushbacks in the Aegean, non-compliance with its fundamental rights obligations and a European Parliament inquiry into its mode of operation and internal affairs.
Other articles on Frontex look at whether the agency's cooperation with the EU's military operation in the Mediterranean could assist with pullbacks to Libya; how it seeks to limit scrutiny by chasing court costs from transparency activists; the covering up of Serious Incident Reports, and how the Ombudsman has failed to ensure third-country nationals have the ability access to documents, despite increasing Frontex interventions beyond the EU's borders.
Most importantly, two legal cases have been brought against Frontex in relation to its activities in Greece: Front-Lex and Lesvos Legal Centre called on the agency to stop its activities in Greece due to routine human rights violations, failing which they may turn to the ECJ; the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) challenges practices that followed the 2016 EU-Turkey statement as amounting to "crimes against humanity".
This round-up also includes updates on other developments in EU migration management, including the potential deployment of AI to screen and profile passengers travelling to the EU; a report on the "climate-migration nexus" in the Sahel region; governmental harassment of anti-racist NGO KISA in Cyprus; complaints against impunity for human rights violations in Greece, and much more.
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